Gameplay, Story and Value:
For the record, I played the “Special Edition” version of this game on the Sega CD. While I do own the cartridge versions of both games, the Sega CD version only serves to improve some animations and add CD quality audio, and does not fundamentally change the game.
I remember absolutely loving this game as a kid. I played it regularly on both consoles, and even watched that short-lived cartoon series. It’s unfortunate, then, that my memories of the game don’t quite translate to the reality of actually playing it. The platforming in Earthworm Jim is so close to being great, but ultimately feels imprecise and inconsistent. The controls are fine: you have a button for your whip attack, a button for your gun and a button to jump. What’s missing is a button to swap weapons, which means when you find that shotgun or rocket launcher, you may find yourself wasting it on common enemies.
What’s less fine when it comes to controls is how the behave under certain circumstances. For example, you can jump up and off of some lines, but only fall off others. This is particularly frustrating when there are items above lines you can only fall from. Hit detection can also be a major issue. Not just with actually hitting enemies, but with the platforms themselves as well. There’s little consistency regarding at what point you’re actually considered to be on any given surface. This issue can be further amplified by the fact that the game does not give you an invincibility grace period after taking damage. This means you can find yourself wildly flailing your whip or shooting your gun while an enemy who managed to get on top of you rapidly depletes your heath.
It’s not all bad. When the game does come together it does so nicely. Jumping and bouncing, whipping and shooting, all has a great, kinetic feel to it, and taking out bosses and enemies can feel incredibly satisfying. The bonuses levels between stages are also a lot of fun. It’s just too bad the game isn’t a bit more streamlined to allow more of those moments.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
So the game looks amazing. Between the fantastic art and settings and great animations and sound effects it feels like you’re playing through a Saturday morning cartoon. Even now the crazy style and humor holds up and it really is a joy to look at. Unfortunately, this style of level design also attributes to the above issues when it comes to platforming. Because of how everything is laid out and drawn, it can be very hard to discern interactive elements from background objects, or which ledges are able to be grabbed, or which ledges are ledges. Technical issues aside, it can’t be ignored how good this game looks. Evil the Cat in the background of stage 2 is the best.
The music in Earthworm Jim is, honestly, forgettable at its worst, but phenomenal at its best. Stage 2 is another prime example of where it excels. The sound effects range from endearing to annoying. Hearing Jim scream “Groovy!” is an aural staple of my childhood, but I can only listen to “I’m NEWD!” so many times before it stops being cute… Otherwise the sounds are perfectly fitting and only further enhance the game’s aesthetic.
I was really hoping that by taking a closer look at this game, it would me reaffirm it as one of the era’s platforming greats. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case. Earthworm Jim is a classic, surely, but it just doesn’t hold up in the gameplay department. It’s still a game I value owning, and I hope my kids play it while they’re young enough not to judge it. For me, though, it”ll mostly just remain a fond memory.